Sask. pastor helps adjustable glasses win $1M funding

Greg Wiens took a trip to Myanmar to hand out adjustable glasses and is now preparing to go to Palestine after the idea won $1 million.

Greg Wiens knew he had to get involved when he first found out about the adjustable eye glasses

Greg Wiens speaking at Madison Square Gardens. "Two minutes, Madison Square Gardens, packed house, I got to share what happened with the glasses in Myanmar," Wiens said. (WeWork Youtube)

Greg Wiens first read about adjustable glasses almost a decade ago. At the time, the glasses used silicon to change prescriptions quickly and easily.

Wiens, a Mennonite pastor, was captivated. He saw the potential to help people who couldn't afford regular optometry. He dreamed for three nights straight about getting involved.

"[The dream was] that if I didn't get involved in this it wouldn't go anywhere," he said.

Wiens, who now lives in Waldheim, Sask., became friends with Joshua Silver, the Oxford professor who invented the glasses and Kevin White, an American who distributed the glasses with the U.S. military. Nine years later, Wiens helped White win $1 million in funding.

The original design used a syringe to control the amount of liquid in the lenses, adjusting the prescription.

Through developments, White came up with a new idea of using a binocular-like device. People would adjust it to their eyes then Wiens could read the prescription.

Wiens would then grab lenses and a pair of frames, put them together in the field and the person immediately has a new pair of glasses.

The device used to find a person's prescription is simplistic and effective. Here a volunteer, known as Pastor Moe, helps a woman find her prescription. (Submitted by Greg Wiens)

"The new glasses are exactly just like normal looking eye glasses," Wiens said. "And the results are absolutely astounding."

In November, 2017, Wiens took around 500 pairs of glasses to Myanmar by coordinating with a Mennonite Brethren Compound there.

"I sold my motorcycle, I used all my hockey-reffing money and my church helped support and pay for some of it," he said.

Two ladies in Myanmar after one had received glasses. (Submitted by Greg Wiens)

Wiens said he handed out around 500 pairs in 10 days and "it was absolutely amazing."

He said one of his favourite moments was an elderly woman who thought she was completely blind in one eye. He said she was excited to have glasses for the first time.

"She walked away crying with joy," Wiens said. "She said through the translator 'I can see the mountains, I haven't seen the mountains in 25 years.' "

$1-million Idea

The glasses were nominated for a WeWorks Creator award in New York City. The award is intended to help inventors produce their ideas.

Wiens said he provided photographs and the organizers asked him to speak about the Myanmar trip at Madison Square Gardens. The glasses won the $1-million grand prize.

The award let them turn prototypes into full-scale production.

"We can now give out a pair of eyeglasses in the field for just under $3 American," Wiens said the goal is $2 each.

Next Trip: Palestine

Wiens is preparing to travel to the Gaza Strip and West Bank area with a Palestinian refugee.

"We're going to be handing out glasses in five different schools in the West Bank and one school in Gaza," Wiens said. Optometrists from the surrounding areas will also be coming to see the glasses device.

"A Muslim businessman and a Mennonite pastor are going to be connecting Israeli optometrists and Palestinian optometrists," Wiens said.

"I just can't think of anything better than that."

With Files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition